Ways of knowing on the Internet: A qualitative review of cancer websites from a critical nursing perspective

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People diagnosed with cancer typically want information from their doctor or nurse. However, many individuals now turn to the Internet to tackle unmet information needs and to complement healthcare professional information. The purpose of this study was to qualitatively explore the content of commonly searched cancer websites from a critical nursing perspective, as this information is accessible, and allows patients to address their information needs in ways that healthcare professionals cannot. This qualitative examination of websites is informed by Carper's fundamental patterns of knowing and complemented with the critical view to technology espoused by the philosophy of technology. We conducted a review of 20 websites using a two-step interpretive descriptive approach and thematic analysis. We identified the dominant discourse to be focused on empirical information on treatment, prognosis, and cure, and a paucity of sociopolitical, ethical, personal, and esthetic information. In place of holistic, nuanced, and accurate knowledge nurses may provide, patients find predominantly empirical and biomedical information online. Discussion explores and critiques online cancer content, gaps in information, and the importance of information diversity. Implications focus on needed discourse around pervasive technologies and the nursing role in assessing and directing patients to holistic information.

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